The 1-6-3 Rule

Training can be fun. It can also be a huge effort. Usually, it’s somewhere in between.

One big mistake first-time exercisers make is thinking that it’s going to be fun the whole time. Think about it…remember how exciting the first day of school was? That first kiss? The day you bought a new car? Unfortunately, most things become more challenging and slightly less exciting with time.

The great thing about training is that you can get the old spark back by just changing things up a bit: train for an event, work on a specific exercise, try to become more flexible – you’ve got unlimited room for improvement.

But even if your training plan is great and your workouts are good, your motivation still ebbs and flows. Enter the 1-6-3 rule. It applies to most of us, so chances are pretty good it applies to you, too.

The general gist is this: Out of every ten workouts, one of them will feel great. Six of them will be passable, but difficult – nothing special. Three of them will make you reconsider why you ever started training in the first place. These three are the root of most training plans’ demise. These are the three you absolutely must fight your way through.

Let’s go back to the one great session. This one usually comes when you’re completely recovered, have eaten well, and have recently progressed. The important part of having a workout like this is to remember that it’s special and is not “the new normal.” Enjoy it, because you won’t have it again for a few weeks. And don’t get depressed about it either. Half of the feeling we get when we’re successful is because it feels different than normal.

The middle six are what you make of them. Some will lean toward great, others will lean toward bad. These are the days that can be hugely affected by a good warm-up and proper nutrition. Since these are the lion’s share of your sessions, it’s a good idea to plan on them feeling like work.

Then there are the dreaded three. These come after nights of too much food and too little sleep. They come when you are not feeling your improvement. They show up when you don’t do your homework. A great athlete can reduce the occurrences of these, but more often, he prepares for them and accepts that this is, after all, work.

Nobody loves training all the time, and no one loves hard work that doesn’t pay off. No one loves having bad days. If you can fight through the bad days, though, you’ll love what training can do for you.

-Steve Bechtel


It’s spring and you’ve been training (or at least exercising) since January. You get up every day, go into the gym, bust through the workout. The problem is, you’re just not that psyched to train right now. Plus, it’s getting so nice out…

Burnout. It’s not a pretty word is it? Brings to mind glassy-eyed, nappy-haired, poorly-dressed, disaffected hippies living in vans who try to bilk honest folk like you and me out of a free cup of coffee. This could be you if you don’t get it together.

Building lasting motivation is a tall order. We’re used to having things come to us easily and in short intervals. Think about it. You’re hungry. How long would it take you to find a snack? 3 minutes? 2? How about a sweatshirt? How long would it take you to find something warm to put on if you were a little chilly? When something takes a long time or a lot of work, it’s hard for most of us to saddle up.

The #1 cause of burnout is a lack of discernible progress toward a goal. I always like to equate training to saving money – we don’t care nearly as much about our health as our wallets, so the examples are better. Until you’ve saved and invested money for a long time, you don’t really see the payoffs. It can be 20 or 25 years before you start seeing the magic of compounding interest. And unless you see beyond the short term pain of not spending every dime when it comes into your hand, you’ll never even get to worry about your interest actually making you substantial funds.

Exercise is much the same way. We have athletes that work weeks and weeks to get one second faster in a 10k. Or how about the guy that spent over a year trying to eek out just one more pull-up? Sometimes, the small gains take the most work. And keep in mind that beating back burnout is usually a huge key to making progress.

Here are a few handy little tips to keep you from jumping on the burnout wagon this summer:

1. Set smaller goals. Big goals are fun to think about, but they can be pretty overwhelming when you’re only getting there 1% at a time. Say you’re trying to lose 50 pounds. That’s a whole lot of weight (mentally) to carry around. So instead of fixating on that number, try for a pound a week. This smaller chunk is easier to believe in.

2. Halve your training volume for a few weeks. Don’t stop exercising! Plan to lift just as hard, run just as fast, and  keep up the intensity of your exercise in all other respects. Just cut each workout straight in half time-wise. You’ll be surprised how much fitness you don’t lose.

3. Set divergent goals. Back to your 50 pounds; what if you had some completely different goals to focus on? Maybe you could aim to learn a new recipe each week. Try to get to where you can ride your bike for an hour without stopping. Do one new exercise each day. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it supports your big goal.

4. Turn your routine upside-down. That’s right, do it backward. Do the last exercises first. Do ten sets of three instead of three sets of ten. Run in the evenings instead of the mornings. You get the idea. The bottom line is that you’ve got to keep the ball rolling, but you don’t have to (nor should you) stick to the same thing.

The worst thing you can do is quit. Going back to money – sometimes you don’t have much and sometimes you have enough, but you never just quit using the stuff. You have got to keep earning it. Fitness is just the same.

How Good Are You?

How much do you do? How many different sports / movements / intensities? What have you changed in your exercise “routine” in the past year? If you’re stuck at the same performance level or body weight that you were this time last year, things are probably not going to change if you just do more of that which already excel. When you step back and look at your training, look for limiters.

Limiters. That’s the nice term coaches use for weaknesses. Every athlete has them, but the ones that are able to identify and train those limiters are miles ahead of the ones that don’t. The thing about weaknesses is that they are no fun to address. There’s a reason that little skinny people like running better than heavy ones do. Likewise there’s a reason little skinny people don’t tend to like 400 pound squats. We all default to training what is easy for us. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just that by stepping slightly out of our comfort zone might just be the best path to breaking that plateau.

We’re taught from a very young age to do more of the things at which we excel. Good at math? Well, then, do more math! It makes sense – find a career that suits your strengths and use it to make money. If you’re a little on the dumb side and you don’t like to dress nicely, you probably shouldn’t run a bank. It’s probably better that you consider personal training. If you know computers, make money off people who don’t know computers. And so on…

As an athlete, though, you’ll reach a state of diminishing returns pretty quickly if you always train to your strengths. We all know someone who has a favorite exercise or workout and this is usually their default mode of exercise. Funny thing is, in many cases an athlete can do just a little bit of training a weakness and see huge results. On the flip side, an athlete can double total training time on a key strength and only see a tiny improvement.

Take your typical “bro.” The guy bench presses 3-4 times a week for about an hour and sees an improvement in his max by about 2% every six months. A hundred hours of training for 2%…it’s crazy and it happens every day. What if he were to run a hundred hours? Stretch a hundred hours?

We talk training all day long at the gym. We see athletes succeed and fail all the time. One huge difference between the ones who make it and the ones who don’t is that some of these athletes have been able to make the commitment to addressing the things that are holding them back.

So, how to do it? The first step is to take an honest inventory of what you ARE doing. Get out your training log…oh, wait, you don’t keep one. OK, get out a piece of paper and write down all the types of exercises you did in the past two weeks. Be specific about mode, and time spent doing it.

Next, write down whether it was a heavy/fast, medium, or light/slow workout. Lifting 2-3 reps? Heavy. 10 or more? Light. Figure out how much of each speed you’ve done if you’re an endurance athlete. Write it all out in a nice big chart, and I’ll bet you see some holes.

Some questions to ask yourself: How much mobility / flexibility work did you do? How much time working on skills / balance? What about anaerobic endurance training? How’s your nutrition? Have you been getting 5 servings of vegetables a day?

You get the idea. Next, you’re going to write down a NEW training plan for the next couple of weeks that addresses the things you’ve been missing as your primary training goal. This means backing off on your bench in favor of more mobility work and back exercises. This means cutting 5 minutes out of your run to build core stability.

If, for example, you just turned 40, it might be time to really get serious about following a good, regular plan of strength and flexibility training just to make sure you keep from getting injured doing all the sports you’ve been punishing yourself with for the past 25 years.

Good athletes work very hard at improving their strengths, great ones eliminate their weaknesses. Get honest with yourself and find the things that are holding you back. There’s a whole world of health and performance waiting for you, as soon as you break loose of those old limits.

Fill In The Blanks

You didn’t make today’s ___________ workout because ________________ . It’s OK, though, because you _______________ last week. Additionally, tomorrow you’re going to _________ with _________ . Of course, you ARE going to _________ tomorrow night, but it’s a special occasion and you’re going to go ahead and have _____________ because you’ve worked so hard. Next ____________ , however, you’re really going to get after it and do __________ times as many intervals as your plan dictates, to make up lost ground. Then, instead of eating a balanced diet high in vegetables and lean proteins as recommended by legitimate sources, you’ll eliminate _______________ from your diet and do the ______________ detox you read about in “Us” magazine. You’re also going to start using your new _____________ device you bought off late night TV, which guarantees results in as little as ____ minutes a _________ . By using _____________ you can have __________ in as little as ___________ weeks, which is WAY faster than what your coach told you was possible.

Instead of following the same boring, effective plan, you’re going to change your fitness plan ________ times this month, or about once per workout. If this doesn’t work you’re going to commit to _________ the _____________ race, 18 ____________ from now. You will start training, in a big way, next _______________ . This is a big deal… exercise is harder for you because ______________ and you have to work __________ hours a ________ . When you go out to eat, you’re forced to eat _____________ instead of something good for you by ______________ , so it’s really not your fault. Plus, _____________ happened to you (also not your fault) so you can’t really help how much dessert you eat. At the grocery store you can’t afford vegetables so you buy _______________ instead. This is good, because it’s quicker to prepare; you don’t have the time to eat well. In fact, you barely have time to watch more than ________ hours of TV a night and only read one book per ___________.

Ever since you injured ____________ you haven’t been able to ______________, so you thought “To heck with it,” and stopped exercise altogether. That really affected you self esteem, so you, being an emotional eater, made a batch of ______________ and ate it all by yourself.

The truth is, there are certain things you just WON’T give up: A nice glass of ____________ every night, your _____________ for breakfast, and an occasional ______________________. Additionally, you can’t follow a nutrition plan on weekends because ________________ . It’s ridiculous to think with how hard you work (see above) that you still haven’t reached your goals. After all, you’ve done _____________ (insert number less than 25) percent of what your coach told you to do.

Which is exactly why you fail.

65 and Fit.

Joe Powell and Sharon Terhune

I turned 65 years old today.  That is an accomplishment for the males in my family.  My father died at 64 and his father died before he was sixty.  I, however, feel stronger and fitter than I have ever felt.  As a matter of fact, I rummaged through my storage a few days ago and pulled out my old dress blue uniform trousers.  When I say “old” I mean they are really old.  I bought them 40 years ago when I was a 25 year old officer of Marines.  I was utterly astonished to find that they fit perfectly.

I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that I have kept myself in great physical condition for the past 40 years.  The last time I tried those trousers on was maybe three years ago and I would not have been able to button them even with the help of a block and tackle.  Since I left the Marine Corps 36 years ago I gained, on the average, a pound a year and my waist size ballooned out from 33 inches to 38.  I, however, never thought of myself as fat or out of shape.  In my mind I was a “big” man.

I had a major paradigm shift about a year and a half ago.  I had just gotten married and I was looking at the wedding photos that my wife and I had just picked up at the photographers.  After marveling at how gorgeous my wife looked, I had a major jolt when I took a good look at myself.  “Sh..!” I thought.  “You’re not just ‘big’.  You’re fat.”  That paradigm shift in how I had perceived myself was soon followed by another shift in thinking.

My regular weekend jaunts into the mountains on foot, mountain bike, and cross country skiis may have kept me from getting totally out of shape,  but going on a hike, ride, or ski  a  couple of times a week had not done much to control my weight.  Fortunately, my wife and I discovered that we were both interested in becoming more fit.  She started working with Jagoe Reid as her trainer at The Elemental Training Center and after a few months I followed her example.  I have worked with Jagoe for the past eleven months and I feel like I have made some major progress.

In the first place, over the past eleven months I have lost about 30 pounds and my body fat percentage has dropped to 11.22%.   Among other things, the weight loss has meant that I have had to get a new wardrobe.   A year ago a 38 inch waist band was snug on me and now I wear pants with a 32 inch waist.  I have also had to get rid of all my extra large shirts because now I wear a medium. More importantly, for the last several years I had been taking blood pressure and cholesterol medication, but at my last physical examination the results of my test were so outstanding that my physician decided to take me off the cholesterol medication altogether and put me a minimal dose of blood pressure medicine just  to stay on the safe side.  My balance has improved a great deal.  My strength may be greater now than it was when I was in the Marines and my stamina is nearly as good as it was then (remember I turned 65 years old today).

Now it is time for a dose of reality.  Making these changes in my life has not been easy.  It has taken a huge amount of commitment and discipline.  In truth, I think learning and practicing and succeeding with the degree of self discipline that has been required of me over the past eleven months has been a greater benefit to me than all the other successes put together.  In other words, I really needed some major practice with self discipline.  Like many Americans I avoided discomfort like it was the plague, but now I understand that in many ways comfort is the enemy.  When we get too comfortable we stagnate.  The best thing about having a personal trainer is that she or he can give us comfort lovers the little nudge that we need to help us to willingly step Into The Arena Of Pain.  Excuse me for being a little over dramatic, but fitness does demand some pain.  More than once I have wondered if my trainer, Jagoe, had worked for the Spanish Inquisition in a past life.  Jagoe has proven that she is the lady with the plan and I am proof that the plan works.  You need to understand, however, that the plan can hurt, sometimes for days.  I work out twice a week with Jagoe for strength training.  I do my foundation strength training once a week on my own. I do three other days of interval training, rowing, or steady running.  I get up every work day, except Friday, at 4:30 in order to get to the gym before work.  In the beginning it took a lot of self discipline to keep up the schedule, but now it has become simply a way of life.

Speaking of commitment and self discipline, I nearly forgot to mention diet.  I have, maybe for the first time in my life, become totally aware of the quality and quantity of the things I eat and drink.  I try to count every calorie, but I haven’t felt deprived in any way.  I am careful, however.  I try to eat foods that will give me the best nutrition per calorie.  Being careful and consistent with a diet also demands self discipline.  I probably consume 1/3 fewer calories now than I did a couple of years ago and I don’t miss any of it.

The fact that my wife and I are in total agreement on our fitness program has been a key element in our success.   I’m not sure if I would have been able to keep my training problem going over time if my wife and I did not have the same training schedule and the same dietary goals.  I know that there are lots of people who do manage to keep up their training on their own.  I admired them for it.  I’m very glad, however, that my wife and I have formed a fitness team.

I regret that I didn’t realize years ago that fitness training has to be frequent, consistent, and intense to really be of value.  Because I do feel better today than I have felt in the past 35 years.  Fortunately, it seems that it is never too late to get fit.  Did I mention that I turned 65 years old today?

Stay Hungry

“Stay hungry” is one of my favorite sayings. It applies to our athletes in two ways:

First, it tells them to keep from eating too much, that excess intake is just more work down the road. We’re not talking starvation, either. We’re just talking about avoiding huge binges and excess empty calories.

On top of that, You’ve got to stay hungry for your goal. Keep working toward it at all times, no matter what. Keep in the front of your mind how badly you want it and how good you’ll feel when you’ve arrived.

Every athlete gets “flat.” Everyone is tired at the end of the day and everyone breaks. All you’ve got to do is make sure it happens less frequently, and when you can go hard, go all the way.

Is this sugar, Sugar?

Adam Campbell’s “Big Book of Exercises” is a good read, and it’s full of useful things that aren’t exercises, too. A real gem is the list of ways that sugar hides in your food. Trying to get skinny? Rule #1 is to kick sugar out of your nutrition plan. Here’s the list of sugar’s aliases (by no means an exhaustive list):

barley malt

brown rice syrup

corn syrup


evaporated cane juice invert syrup


fruit juice



granular fruit grape juice concentrate

high-fructose corn syrup




maple syrup


organic cane juice




So You're Strong, Now What?

Let’s pretend you got last month’s newsletter, and started the 101 workouts immediately. Let’s say you did them three days a week all the way through January, and have now completed the workouts 12-15 times. Imagine how good your base strength would be. Now, we both know that didn’t happen, but it’s pretty to think so, isn’t it?

You probably remember the classic model of doing a strength day three times a week and alternating “cardio” days in for an hour three other times a week. It’s not a bad plan, except that people don’t do it.

Between the new season of “Lost” and all the friending you’ve got to get done, it’s hard to find six extra hours a week to train. This isn’t an article to tell you that people much busier than you can get it done. This is an article to tell you how to get all the training you’ve ever wanted in just 15 minutes a day.

Once you’re good and solid on your Foundation workouts, it’s time to get fit. We’ve found the fastest way to get in top shape is not via alternating cardio with strength, but rather by squishing them together. And instead of taking an hour to do a workout, we squish the same amount of work into sessions of 30 minutes or less. Remember the four minute workout from a few months back?

Unlike most fitness infomercials, this is not easy, it’s not fun, it’s not cheap, and you’ll probably spend a lot of time on the floor. Also unlike most fitness infomercials, results ARE typical.

Try one of these “cardio-strength” workouts. Do them on your off days from lifting. It won’t take long before you understand just how hard you can work. And it won’t take long before you see that work really pay off.



Do each of the following exercises in sequence for ten reps. At the end of the circuit, start again, but do only 9 of each. Continue in this fashion until you do only one of each exercise. Complete circuit A, rest 5 minutes, then do circuit B. On bilateral exercises (i.e. step-ups) complete the prescribed number of exercises on EACH SIDE.

A1: Push-Ups

A2: Jumping Squats

A3: Mountain Climbers

B1: Assisted Pull-Ups

B2: Jump Lunges

B3: Step-Ups



Complexes are groups of exercises done in sequence using the same piece of equipment and load. Exercises are completed back-to-back without putting the weight down. Do complex A with a barbell, Complex B requires only a pair of dumbbells. For both complexes, do 5 rounds of 8 reps per exercise with 60 seconds between rounds.

A1: Push-Press

A2: Front Squat

A3: Hang Clean

A4: Deadlift

A5: Rows

A6: Barbell Roll-Out

B1: Lunges

B2: Curl and Press

B3: Push-Up / Row Combo

B4: Side Lunge


If you’ve ever tried to achieve a goal, you know it’s not easy. The things we really want are usually not that simple to attain. Very rarely to we set a goal of “making 25 cents” or “putting on my pants.” Goals, as most of us define them, are hard to attain and require some intense effort. It’s more than natural to hit some rough patches along the way, and when this happens, it’s also natural to get discouraged. It’s what we do when we’re discouraged that really determines our chance of success.

The primary psychological factor in being successful is self-perceived competence. If you see yourself as competent, you’ll keep trying new things, working hard on projects, and “bearing down” when things get tough. On the flip side, if you see yourself as incompetent, you’ll constantly shy away from challenges, sure that you’ll fail. One of the greatest joys a human can experience is the feeling that he has a hand in what happens to him. It follows, then, that the most depressing and discouraging thing most of us could ever experience is the feeling that we don’t matter, that fate has a plan for us and we’re just along for the ride.

A person who experiences much success in life tends to continue to do so because of the feeling of competence. Randall Strossen, a clinical psychologist says that the best way to realize how this works is to turn it around. “That way,” he states, “you’ll know what behaviors to avoid.” It’s the psychological counterpart to being told that snakes are dangerous before you hike through the jungle.

Strossen says to see yourself as incompetent, follow these four rules:

1. Surround yourself with authority figures who regularly correct you or put you down. Make sure you pick pompous, insecure people to spend time with, and make sure that they give you plenty of unsolicited advice. Lots of people get this chance straight from birth, others have to wait until they are in school. If you really want to be ridiculed, find someone that has different priorities, and tell them your goal. They won’t miss any opportunity to say, “I told you so,” when you’re having troubles.

2. Always set yourself up for failure. If you’re trying to lose weight, make sure to plan on losing at least 20 pounds. If it’s your half-marathon you’re wanting to improve, don’t be satisfied with anything less than a ten minute improvement. And my favorite, take a few weeks off of training, then come back and flat-out expect to be just as fit as when you stopped doing the workouts.

3. Rehearse your failures and keep the bad feelings fresh. Our imaginations are virtually unlimited; we can come up with all kinds of reasons to think we suck. Remember how poorly you did last time you rode your bike up Sinks Canyon, or how you fell off the warm-up climb at Wild Iris.

4. Establish unrealistic goals. Similar to setting up for failure, you need to put big plans out there so you’re always worrying about them. Not that goal setting is bad, but planning on winning the Boston Marathon after barely qualifying is probably a bad plan. This is the best way to set yourself up for repeated failure.

The path to engineering competence then becomes clear. You just reverse all the rules above and you’re on the right track.

Start by surrounding yourself with people that will support your efforts and who believe in your ability to achieve your goals. Make sure that these people know that their support role may even require (gasp!) a sacrifice on their part.

Next, be sure to set yourself up for success. Pick activities where you succeed often, and work at stretching yourself from there. Can’t do a full rage squat with 200 pounds on your back? Work your way toward it by perfecting all facets of the movement. There’s nothing wrong with air squats. Make sure you give yourself time to reach the big goals.

Rehearse your successes. Don’t focus on the crappy workout you just had and how weak you feel. Remember how you ran your intervals faster than ever last week? Scale didn’t budge today? Remember how much you’ve lost so far on this plan. You get the idea…

And finally, establish some good, ambitious, and achievable goals. If you reach these goals easily, set the bar higher and attack again. One thing to beware: don’t use “realistic goals” as an excuse to lower your standards.

Belief in yourself is critical if you’re ever going to really get anywhere. Whether you get to the gym or out on the road is really up to you. Whether you’ll make that leap depends on how much you believe in yourself.